Deck Hand on a Fishing Boat, Balboa

Illustration by Bob AulI worked for Xerox for 33 years—I was a manager— and when I retired in '97, I thought I'd like to work on a boat because I've enjoyed fishing from the time I was a kid and doing it with my dad. The first year, I was a fill-in guy, and it got to be a little more each year. I work the half-day boat that goes out twice a day. That means usually I'm getting out there at 5 in the morning because the boat leaves for its first trip at 6. First thing is we hose the boat down—get all the bird crap off and dry off the seats. Then you set up the bait tank and make sure the bait pump is filling right. Then you load bait, unless we're going to meet the bait boat. You start loading the folks in, collect tickets, check for fishing licenses, make sure they're not bringing on anything they're not supposed to. Generally you're just taking care of the customers—helping them out, dropping anchor, pulling up anchor, looking for kelp or birds because that might indicate where fish might be. The boat can fit 99 people. On days when there are just 30, it can really be a lot of fun. On days when there are 99, it can be pretty tenuous. It can be pretty hard work, but I like doing it. There's a lot of camaraderie among the deck hands even though, generally, most of the deck hands aren't older guys like me. Generally it's kids. My good buddy who was a tax manager for Xerox's western region told me, "You're totally insane," but I really like it. I like the whole thing, being on the boat. It's exciting when you get into a hot bite. Just today, a barracuda bit right through a metal jig. Things like that keep it interesting. When I get home, my wife makes me take off my clothes in the back yard. When you fish for barracuda —that's a really slimy fish; they really smell terrible. The first year I worked on the boat, we had just sold one of our cars and we just had one car between us. So my wife would pick me up after she got off work, and she'd always make sure all the windows were open; it gets pretty rank. Now it's pretty much okay. I just peel off my clothes in the back, and if something smells really bad, some lemon juice will usually take care of it. I think some of the guys on the boat never change or wash their clothes—at least it smells that way. In early December, I go up to Mammoth to work. It's great. I sell lift tickets in the late afternoon and early evening. They pay me $6 an hour, but I don't do it for the money. I made close to six figures when I was with Xerox, and I have a nice retirement. I do it because you get a season's pass to ski. Last year, I probably skied 70 days from December to April. It's great. My wife works at Orange Coast College, so she stays down here and I say bye and go up there for the winter. After 34 years of marriage, it works out pretty well.

—as told to Steve Lowery
 
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